Person Information

Biography

15th President of the United States (1857–1861).

Buchanan was the son of Irish immigrants who had made a successful life for themselves as merchants in rural Pennsylvania. The Buchanans could afford to send James to good schools, and after graduating with honors from Dickinson College, James Buchanan studied law. His legal and political careers moved forward together. Becoming a successful attorney, he advanced from state legislator to national figure, including membership in both houses of Congress, ambassadorships, and a cabinet post. The ambitious Buchanan had his sights on the presidency for many years before he actually attained the office. He tried for the White House in 1844, 1848, and 1852 before finally achieving his goal in 1856. In the 1850s, the question of slavery divided the United States. Hopes ran high that the new President, "Old Buck," might be the man to avert national crisis. He failed entirely. During his administration, the Union broke apart, and when he left office, civil war threatened.

In 1860, the rift between James Buchanan and Stephen Douglas doomed the political aspirations of both. Under the strain of internal pressure and sectional tension, the Democratic Party finally snapped in two, allowing an unknown railroad lawyer from an upstart party—the Republican Abraham Lincoln—to win the White House. The election of a Northerner clearly opposed to the extension of slavery outside existing Southern states frightened the South. Six weeks after Lincoln's election, South Carolina left the Union, and within another six weeks, six other states followed.

Letter References

Citations

Biography and Citation Information:
Biography: 
15th President of the United States (1857–1861). Buchanan was the son of Irish immigrants who had made a successful life for themselves as merchants in rural Pennsylvania. The Buchanans could afford to send James to good schools, and after graduating with honors from Dickinson College, James Buchanan studied law. His legal and political careers moved forward together. Becoming a successful attorney, he advanced from state legislator to national figure, including membership in both houses of Congress, ambassadorships, and a cabinet post. The ambitious Buchanan had his sights on the presidency for many years before he actually attained the office. He tried for the White House in 1844, 1848, and 1852 before finally achieving his goal in 1856. In the 1850s, the question of slavery divided the United States. Hopes ran high that the new President, "Old Buck," might be the man to avert national crisis. He failed entirely. During his administration, the Union broke apart, and when he left office, civil war threatened. In 1860, the rift between James Buchanan and Stephen Douglas doomed the political aspirations of both. Under the strain of internal pressure and sectional tension, the Democratic Party finally snapped in two, allowing an unknown railroad lawyer from an upstart party—the Republican Abraham Lincoln—to win the White House. The election of a Northerner clearly opposed to the extension of slavery outside existing Southern states frightened the South. Six weeks after Lincoln's election, South Carolina left the Union, and within another six weeks, six other states followed.
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